Role-holder interview: Krisztina Jaksakrisztina jaksa photograph

Q: Hello Krisztina. Can you say what your current job role is at Brookes.

KJ: My job title is Programme Coordinator for Pre Masters Courses and I work in the International Centre at Gipsy Lane. I represent the organisation to current and potential students and many other agencies and I also liaise with colleagues across institutions. I manage the whole admissions process including advising applicants on the UK border agency visa regulations and I also apply for international visas for them. I manage the international scholarship scheme and student induction and enrolment events… I’ve got a few students coming next week and this is quite a comprehensive event – we’ll sometimes have up to 150 students in our centre and I’m expecting about 40 students to arrive in September. Additionally I hold tutorial sessions for students advising them on their application process and I have them write their personal statements because it is part of our application requirement. I service various course committees, the exam board and validation meetings – two of our courses have just been validated, the process hopefully completing in two weeks’ time. I’m quite pleased because it was a serious and stressful process. I also use the university’s EXCIS system quite a lot, for updating student programmes: I upload the marks and I provide student transcripts and I help colleagues across the university look up students, update on their status, and I provide statistical info and analysis relating to student applications so I’m pretty much asked once a month –“how many students are we going to have?” and generally speaking I just raise the profile of the department, letting other areas of the university know about us – for example, if a student goes to the Business School and gets a conditional offer it doesn’t hurt to let them know about our courses. So, I promote our courses across the university so that -  specifically admissions tutors - are aware that there are progression routes within Brookes. And students. It’s very important.

Q: How long have you been in this post?

KJ:  In this post four and a half months – since January 2011.

Q: And how long within Brookes altogether?

KJ:  I started in September 2005, so nearly 6 years.

Q: What would you say are the main skills and qualities necessary to doing your job well?

KJ: Well, to use your initiative a lot. You have to be quite independent and – if you like – quite brave in making decisions because at this level (it’s a grade 7 post) you’re expected to work on your own quite a lot. And – of course – there are things like UK Border Agency matters that I can’t make big decisions on, but apart from that you are expected to manage your own work  - well, your manager is there to be asked questions, but not really to manage you on a daily basis. Also – advisory skills – it’s great to have them and very important because you deal with students all the time and they rely heavily on you, and you can make a huge difference in their wider, more personal life, as well as in matters like their finances. And every student is a person of course, but they also represent income to the university - £9k in the first year leading to £20k in the second. I think that you have to be a good team player because you can’t provide a full support service on your own – I rely heavily on my colleagues…..Oh yes, and troubleshooting. You have to be able to think on your feet very quickly and circumstances can change very rapidly.

Q: Say something about the classes you hold for writing personal statements….

KJ: Well, all of our students start on the pre Masters course at the end of which they convert to masters students. Some of them will go to other universities, but most of them’ll stay within Brookes. It’s crucial that they put together their application very well so that they stand the best chance of getting in. Some courses are extremely oversubscribed, so the personal statement is key. Some universities don’t actually require personal statements but Brookes holds to this, we stick to our guns if you like…..And it’s just generally going through the application process, informing about visas, and other matters. The other day I spoke to a guy who wasn’t sure about options to complete his course, and eventually he decided to go part time and do the masters over two years, based on his level of confidence. He also changed the subject, so instead of doing finance, he decided to do marketing – so you can have people who just need to know the processes to go for different subject areas.

Q: You’ve moved around in the university – can you say something about the steps in your career story – inside and outside of the university?

KJ: I think it’s a bit of a fairytale story and I actually don’t know if this path can be open to people again….I started when I was eighteen: I finished my A’levels in Hungary and worked for a year and then decided to come to England to study English. This was going to be for about six months. I ended up having a really good time and – one and half years later – Hungary became a member of the European Union, so I could leave my au pair job and get a job in a pub….I did that for four months, and then I applied for a general assistant post at Oxford Brookes. I started that in 2004 – sorry, I said earlier I started here in 2005 – in September 2004. So, general assistant at the Business school in Oxford Brookes restaurant, which was pretty much washing up for 8 hours a day. In the same year I got into contact with OCSLD – which I learned about from a colleague – and was encouraged to look into all sorts of development options. And my colleague encouraged me to do that because he knew I was kind of ambitious. That was Jon, and he said he could support me with OCSLD’s help. Actually, when I came for the job, at interview the panel were already taking about opportunities to study at Brookes, which came sort of true in the end but wasn’t quite as they’d described……So, it really inspired me from the beginning – that there might be opportunities to study -  so Jon suggested I contact KT in OCSLD and we met in January 2005. She came and met my boss and he had no choice (!) but to allow me to get some study started.

So, from February I managed to negotiate some informal hours away from the kitchen and working in an administration role in the main office. I would do basic admin tasks and this meant that my colleagues in the kitchen really got together to support me. I think it was quite a difficult period for them, but they supported me to get the NVQ at level 2 (OCR Business and Administration) and a tutor from INTEC Business School (the NVQ partner/provider) came to visit me on a regular basis in the workplace to assess. This was great because I was working full time and would never have been able to attend a college to do the NVQ. I finished the NVQ in August 2005, through doing this “work experience” in the office and that was my first qualification. Then KT told me about an apprentice post that Brookes had just created at Westminster. At the time I didn’t know what Westminster College was and thought she was talking about a job in London, so I thought “Oh no, I’m not going to go to London to work….”. But of course, it’s here. So, first I spoke to my line-manager, who at the time tempted me to stay by saying I should go for a full job interview at Westminster instead. But after a month I realised that that was just not happening, so I contacted KT again and this resulted in an interview with JA at Westminster, who offered me the apprentice role.

So, I was now an apprentice at Westminster Institute of Education and this was for two years – from 2005 to 2007 – and within that time I completed the level 3 qualifications that make up the Advanced Apprenticeship. After that I got info from KT and a colleague about the Foundation Degree I (Business, Marketing and Communication). At first I thought – no way, I can’t do that – but after talking to JA (my line manager) she negotiated financial support (via OCSLD)  for me to attend, and time – because this course involved me being away from the office for a whole afternoon, and within those two years at Westminster, I also progressed within my job. My pay didn’t go up but - because two members out of a team of four left – I was able to take on more responsibilities. So I started to organise the university-wide open days and I also took part in promotional activities and started creating marketing materials. I was also the receptionist up there, which was actually a great opportunity for me to develop the role – I hadn’t done receptionist duties before and I could make it go, to a certain extent – the way I wanted it to go. I also represented the student services on campus and took on the role of being first port of call for students before referring them on to Student Services.

Q: So this was where you started to develop a focus on the students….

KJ: Yes. Then my contract here came to an end – in October 2007 – and I became eligible for redeployment. It was a two-year contract and – I don’t know if the rules have changed since – I could go into redeployment at that point. A few jobs came up but the one that |I really had my eye on was the International Marketing Admin Assistant post, and then I actually went for another two job interviews. One I didn’t get: the other I did get. But because I knew it wasn’t the job I really wanted I managed to negotiate two days, so I was allowed to go for the interview for the International Marketing job – which was very nerve-wracking because I had to potentially turn something down without being sure that I’d got something else. But it all worked out very well and I assisted in developing, planning and organising fifty overseas recruitment activities a year, also  - with the support of the international officers – I also got a little bit of experience of recruiting myself. I went to Turkey twice, which was a great experience, and I started booking exhibitions and materials and dealing with agents, so at this time I really was not working with students. It was like my previous roles, though – I could get my hands into projects across the university as I was working with a small and well-defined team.

So, after being there for two years……actually, it was almost three years – I became aware that it was now going to be very hard for me to progress within the same department, and I aspired now to become an International Officer. But unfortunately this type of post was really being professionalised, if you like, so I knew it was going to be very hard to get into. And also, I think sometimes, you know, people get to know you at a certain level, and you really have to move on (and out) to do something even better: just like in my apprentice job, my boss really appreciated my work but I think he must’ve thought of me as “the apprentice” so I had to leave in order to progress. And that progression happened in January, and I took on the position of Programme Coordinator. It’s quite a good step, this role, because I knew I could deal with students and I also had this other strategy – of wanting to get into admissions – as well, because I realised that that could become a route into being an International Officer, if that was something I was going to be inspired to do in a few years time. There are lots of different routes you can take into the International officer role, and one of those is that you have international admissions experience, and most of the international officers do lack that actually – they tend to have more of a marketing focus. In fact in my previous job I was told that – if I pushed for it – I could probably do a marketing qualification but I realised at the time that it wasn’t that qualification that I needed – I needed different work experiences… and to work with different people – Oh, and I forgot to mention that I became a Warden some years ago, so since 2006 I’ve been living in Cheney Student Village looking after – at any given time – 750 students, so here I’m mainly in a pastoral sort of role, with disciplinary work in that as well.

Q: You’ve really embraced the life of the university, haven’t you?….

KJ: Yep. And then I finished my honours degree – I started this when I was an apprentice: it’s a Foundation Degree plus the one-year top-up to honours – and I did this degree in four years so that I could work throughout the course, and so I got several years work experience and a degree at the same time and it cost me next to nothing. The Foundation Degree was being piloted by the university and OCSLD raised the question of the university funding it as staff development, which was what happened, and it was made very reasonable to staff. The BA I have is called Media, Communication and Culture. I would actually like to say here how disappointed I am to hear that Foundation Degrees are going to be so expensive under the new changes - £6k I think. I don’t know who is going to be able to pay – these are the best ways to widen participation. They are brilliant – and for mature types with lots of experience and little formal education, and for people making late decisions, as humans do…..The Foundation Degree is so flexible, and I could work and study in parallel.

Q: Reflecting on it all, are there any significant moments in your story that you want to mention or any turning points or words of wisdom to tell us about as we come to a finish?

KJ: The first thing I want to mention is: when I was 19 and came to England, you have to realise what you want and see if you can get it where you are – and if you can’t, you might need to make a change….So, it might well be that, being an English person, you could be of great value abroad because of the language, so – be prepared to go where you are needed. When I was 19 and decided to leave, that was very, very important.

The next big thing was getting employed at Brookes – that was how the whole thing got started, it was the right sort of culture.

Next, the big thing was doing the Foundation Degree because that’s when I realised I would be able to go for graduate jobs and I had never considered that possibility before. And then I think, just getting every new job was good. It was great to graduate but I just kept seeing that there was more to do, more places to go.

Q: So it sounds like you’ve developed a bit of a technique for thinking about what you want to do, exploring the opportunities and using your network of contacts to check things out?

KJ: Yes, for example I remember a girl who wanted to do an English language course and she just couldn’t find any information about it. But, in Brookes, I knew exactly where she had to go and who could help. People often give up at the information stage: not everyone, but sometimes people expect people to do the thing for them, but it’s important to get a grip on that fact that it’s you – it’s you who is doing this – and you have to be in it, doing it yourself. And, yes, I think I mentioned before it’s important to know a bit about what you want in advance - and research it a bit. You need to know what you want and if you can describe it, and build a convincing case for it, you are likely to bring people along with you.

Q: So, try to get clear about what you want, and prepare a bit of a case for how it might be achieved, in advance?

KJ: People are likely to help, but you have to do your research and you have to negotiate, and make a case about how it can be made possible….for example, when I wanted to go on one of the “exchange weeks”,  I knew that I couldn’t ask for time off, but I knew that if I offered to make the time up, it’d be difficult for a refusal to be made. Same with Finland – it was an amazing experience and I had said to my boss, “Please let me go there, if you make this possible I’ll make up the hours” – I made the case so strong that she saw no real reason why not……And also – when I needed extra time to do my degree – say four hours – I said that I would give the four hours back later along the road. If you are asking for time, it’s important to at least think of ways you can compensate……And, of course, you have to be slightly creative in connecting the training you want to do,  to your current job. For example, with this job I’ve got now, I had my eye on it a few months before it became available because I knew that people were leaving. So I spoke to my manager at the time and then said, “I think I could really benefit from working a few hours across the road at reception, and learn a bit more about the admission processes, and then I can feed that information back to the team, so the team will benefit as well…..”

Q: Well, how could your manager possibly say no?

KJ: Exactly. Well, he could have said no, of course, but the case was good and it made sense to the team, and we could all benefit so it was OK.


Last update 14 June 2011